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Feeling the Burn: Understanding how Biomass Burning Changes Climate

Each year, during the dry season, a large swath of the African countryside goes up in flames. During two distinct seasons—October through March in the northern hemisphere, and June through November in the southern hemisphere—fires are set to clear land, remove dead and unwanted vegetation and drive grazing animals to less-preferred growing areas. This is called “biomass burning,” and Africa is responsible for an estimated 30 to 50 percent of the total amount burned globally each year. Biomass burning also occurs when fires start naturally (such as after a lightning strike on the savannah), but they’re rare. Worldwide, 90 percent of biomass burning can be attributed to humans.